Survey Results: Open-Source Repo Managers Should Get Paid

We asked, you answered: Yes, developers should be paid for open-source repositories they maintain.

Last week, we asked you whether open-source repository maintainers should be compensated for their time. The catalyst for our survey was an instance where an overworked maintainer for a very popular JavaScript framework decided to bring others in to help them manage the repo. In doing so, one of the managers surreptitiously linked to an outside repo that was pinching cryptocurrency data.

All indications are the new manager knew what they were doing. The library’s main manager claims they were simply unprepared to continue managing a burdensome repository for free, so they sought help. Open source, after all, is the exchange of data without being compensated.

But you think that should change. Overall, 79 percent of you think open-source repository maintainers and managers should be compensated for their efforts. More contextually, 58 percent think maintainers should be paid when their open-source repos are being used by an app that charges users.

Around 15 percent say all maintainers should be compensated, while only six percent say any maintainer of a large repo should earn from it. Some 21 percent say open source should remain an unpaid endeavor.

The remaining question: How should these open-source developers be paid? GitHub has no direct method to ‘contribute’ to open-source repos. There’s no Patreon widget, and no way to implement an Apple Pay, Square, or Stripe pay-me-please button. But there’s nothing stopping a developer from adding a link in the repo description to their PayPal or other payment vendor, either.

But doing so speaks to the culture of open source. We’ve seen repos suggesting users download a developer’s apps or services as a means of supporting them, which seems fine (if a bit self-promotional). The number of repos openly requesting payment is either very slight or nonexistent.

Even contextually, a move to paid prioritization would be a change in how GitHub is approached and used. We agree apps earning income should pay for access to repos they utilize, much as they might pay for access to an API. But that is a good-faith gesture; to make it standard, GitHub would have to be a clearinghouse for all of our projects, and that’s just not feasible.

Moving open source to an optional, paid model is interesting. It’s possibly more interesting that a majority of you want that to happen; we thought we’d see most saying ‘no’ to paid open source projects, but you’ve surprised us! Good job, readers.

Sadly, we just don’t see paid open source becoming viable. We would like to see GitHub – which is the de facto platform for open source – add some method for contributing to open source projects. While we don’t think a full Patreon or Kickstarter model is attractive, a more direct method for supporting repo maintainers would encourage a more grassroots effort to support repos we all love.